King Day and volunteerism

  • Values espoused by the civil rights leader instil a spirit of service from which a developing nation like Nepal can benefit immensely

Jan 17, 2017-

The third Monday of each January is observed in the US as a public holiday, a national “service” day that celebrates the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights hero who changed the trajectory of the American history for the better. With his struggles and personal sacrifices, Dr King paved the way for equal rights and opportunities for all Americans, irrespective of their race. Why should the world care about such an event that is essentially American? Many people might start feeling a sense of fatigue after hearing stories about the upcoming change in the American administration with news networks focusing on US President-elect Trump and the legacy of President Obama. But it is also important to remember the values espoused by Dr King, which inspire those of us who might feel an increasing sense of anxiety over how global events are unfolding.

A day about volunteering

Martin Luther King Day, or MLK Day as it is more commonly known, offers an opportunity to step back and think about life’s essential things that are often neglected or simply forgotten. The values and principles that Dr King stood by his entire life and for which he sacrificed his life are universal and form the bedrock of our humanity. If people around the world peacefully fight for justice today, it is because of the example set by giants of modern history like Dr King. 

With his non-violent way of protesting, even if it implied, in certain cases, breaking an unjust and racist law, Dr King offered a pathway for a possible world where justice, fairness and equality are a reality and not just a utopian dream. Dr King provided a moral compass through which those who are lagging behind and who are oppressed and lack hope can navigate, and emerge confident and dignified from, the challenging and dangerous crossroads of life. 

What is important to know is that MLK Day is about volunteering, a day when American citizens are invited to serve their communities, particularly those who are most in need. Volunteering, often also referred to as service, is a powerful tool to bring together people. We saw it firsthand in Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquakes in 2015. 

Volunteerism in Nepal 

But Nepal as a developing nation can and should do much more to leverage volunteerism’s power. It is not that nothing is happening. After all, I am sure that if we had data available, Nepalis would easily equal or even surpass their American peers who, according to the annual Volunteering and Civic Life in America survey released last November, volunteered in great numbers through an organisation (25 percent) and helped their neighbours (two-thirds). Certainly in the United States or in many other developed nations, volunteerism is encouraged and supported by a strong ‘infrastructure’ of institutions—many of them public—that support and encourage citizens to volunteer and get engaged in community work.

In Nepal, the National Planning Commission has been a pioneer in promoting volunteerism through the National Development Volunteer Service that each year sends hundreds of young professionals to serve in 72 districts. NDVS has been partnering with the Himalayan Climate Initiative and a consortium of other organisations like Youth Initiative, Sano Paila, Yuwa and Kathmandu Living Labs in setting up National Volunteer Nepal, NVP, an initiative that mobilises thousands of volunteers for reconstruction efforts. 

The German Cooperation, GIZ, has been offering valuable support to launch it, showing how international assistance can make a difference when innovative ideas emerge. NVP could offer a great example of partnership between the public sector and the civil society. Nepal can also boost the National Youth Council, which was recently established to promote innovative policies and programmes, including those fostering volunteerism. Additionally, we have a multitude of actors who actively promote volunteerism in the country as shown in the celebrations held on the occasion of the International Volunteer Day last month. 

National strategy

What we need now, to start with, is to have all the actors promoting volunteerism in Nepal talking to each other and starting to think about one or two joint initiatives that can foster a spirit of collaboration. For example, we can organise a national volunteering conference where all actors, including organisations working with minority groups like people with disability and elderly people, can come together and envisage a national volunteering strategy. To support this process, we could set up an informal network of the organisations promoting volunteerism in the country. 

As stated by President Obama in his official proclamation of MLK Day 2017, “Dr King fought not merely for the absence of oppression but for the presence of opportunity. His soaring rhetoric impelled others to take up his cause, and with struggle and discipline, persistence and faith, those who joined him on his journey began to march.”

In Nepal, as everywhere else in the world, we should not forget that volunteerism can offer new opportunities that can make the world a better place for all.


Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE and Editor of Sharing4Good

Published: 17-01-2017 08:09

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